A functional food is a food given an additional function (often one related to health-promotion or disease prevention) by adding new ingredients or more of existing ingredients. The term may also apply to traits purposely bred into existing edible plants, such as purple or gold potatoes having enriched anthocyanin or carotenoid contents, respectively. Functional foods may be “designed to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions, and may be similar in appearance to conventional food and consumed as part of a regular diet”.
The term was first used in Japan in the 1980s where there is a government approval process for functional foods called Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU).
The functional food industry, consisting of food, beverage and supplement sectors, is one of the several areas of the food industry that is experiencing fast growth in recent years. The global market of functional food industry reached 176.7 billion in 2013 and had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.4%. Specifically, the functional food sector has been experiencing 6.9% CAGR, the supplement sector 3.8% and the functional beverage sector has been estimated to grow 10.8% CAGR. This kind of growth is fueled not only by industrial innovation and development of new products that satisfy the demand of health conscious consumers, but also by health claims covering a wide range of health issues.
Consumer skepticism persists mainly because benefits associated with consuming the products may be difficult to detect. Strict examination of some of the functional food claims may discourage some companies from launching their products.
Furthermore, little by little, people are finding out that the best foods are those that have not been tampered with in the Lab. But because holistic knowledge, personal organic gardens or holistic economies are still rare, the marketing of functional foods has become a boon for those who invest in this field.
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- “FOSHU, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan”. Government of Japan.
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- Functional Foods: Public Health Boon or 21st Century Quackery?, a review of regulations and demand for functional foods in Japan, the U.S. and the UK (March 1999)